Ten things I hate about Ghana:
1. The heat. It never stops. The changing seasons have no meaning in Ghana. Summer is hot, Fall is hot, WInter is hot, Spring is hot. There are only two seasons, the hot and dry season, and, even worse, the hot and wet season.
2. The dust. In Ghana, there's hardly any grass, and a lot less pavement then in America. What do we have instead? Dirt. And this dirt doesn't stay nicely on the ground, but floats up and becomes dust. Add that to the exhaust that pours out of the old cars here, and I can't walk to the store with out getting dirty. The dust accumulates in the folds of my skin where my elbow bends, on my neck and wrists, and it sticks to where my clothes are sweaty. I have to scrub the arm pits of my white shirts for half an hour before some semblance of white appears.
3. Traffic. There are a lot of cars, and it is always surprising how efficiently they move and how few accidents there are, considering how few traffic lights there are. Besides, I'm riding a bike, so the amount of jammed cars doesn't affect my speed. My complaint? Most of the cars here are old, and most of the carburetors on them don't seem to be doing their jobs correctly any more. I can see the exhaust pipes shivering with the amount of black smoke they're pooring out, and I can taste the soot even beneath the handkerchief I tie around my mouth. I have never hated cars more.
4. Lights off. Some people mysteriously know before hand when its going to happen, but it usually takes me by surprise, right when I want to make some tea on my electric stove. The worst thing about lights off is that the fan doesn't work. You never know how much you need something until you miss it.
On a joyous note, the lights just came on after 48 straight hours of no electricity!
5. Lack of variety in the food. The only vegetables I've eaten for seven months have been tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, and these weird leaves called contumbri. They're okay, but I miss my green leafy's back home. Everyday I take rice and beans in some sort of combination, not that there are many, and also some other starchy food, yam, cassava or maize, that has been pounded in a squishy substance that you eat with your fingers. From lack of variety, I've learned to like eggs, something I haven't eaten since I was a little kid, but now can't live with out. More shocking, I've relaxed the rules of my vegetarianism and have been eating fish. Its not really so evil to chew some little silver fishies that local fisherman have brought in in their nets, I guess, but I'll stop when I get home.
6. Catcalls. This will never stop. No matter how long I stay here, I will never start looking more black. Here are the things I here, people have remarkably little imagination when it comes to inventing new things to yell at white people: 'obruni' 'Kwesi bruni' 'my friend' 'whiteman' 'bruni, where are you going? (everybody is always desperately curious as to where I am going)' 'Okwahen? (where are you going)' 'Welcome to Africa' 'bra bra (come come)' 'come come, I want to take you as a friend' 'give me _____' 'Dash me _____' It is different if I yelled 'blackman, blackman' at people back home, I suppose, but sometimes I'm not exactly sure why.
7. Ingratitude. Charles Lamb says this: 'The human species.... is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow, and the men who lend. .... The infinite superiority of the former, which I choose to designate the great race, is discernible in their figure, port, and a certain instinctive sovereignty. The latter are born degraded. "He shall serve his brethren." There is something in the air of one of this cast, lean and suspicious; contrasting with the open, trusting, generous manners of the other.'
All of my black friends here have much less money than me, and I like to do what I can to help them out. But just because I am white doesn't mean I am made of money, and I don't think I deserve to be classified as a spend thrift miser if I refuse to give out small 'dashes' left and right. But these sorts of demands are placed on me all the time by people who think I owe them something just because I am white, from asking to use my bicycle (and I should mention that a lot of people don't ask before they use it) to asking for some small money to chop. My mother, via her ATM card, is probably one of the more generous, trusting, charities working in Ghana, but sometimes the more I help people the more I feel degraded around them.
8.Stealing. As I hinted at above, there are relatively few people here who's sense of pride would prevent them from taking advantage of me. And unfortunately, a large subcategory of the above set do not stop before out and out thievery. All of my friends, white and black, have had something stolen from them. I've been robbed of my ATM card twice, once when it was picked from my pocket at a show, and once when it was taken by a boy who I had been good friends with for the three months previously. Worst, he had conned me into giving him my PIN number; I never suspected that an old friend would have designs on my bank account. He is indignant when I confront him over the matter, like I am making baseless accusations. I was amazed at how little my friendship was worth to this boy.
9. Teasing me when I act 'African'. A couple times I've been riding my bicycle and someone has yelled to me 'Who taught you to ride a bicycle?' I would have been confused by such a question if I hadn't heard different versions of it, said in the same tone of voice: 'Who taught you to wash your clothes?' 'Who taught you to eat Wakye?' Handwashing my clothes is certainly a skill I have acquired here in Ghana, but eating Wakye, which is just rice and beans, is something that even white people know how to do.
People seem to find it hilarious that I would act in any way similar to them. Its odd to them that I do anything else than sit in an airconditioned hotel room smoking cigarettes and eating french fries. I admit that my first attempts at washing my clothes were undoubtably amusing, but now, after seven months, I would just like to be taken seriously.
10. Poverty. If there was no poverty, just about all my other complaints about Ghana would disappear. I suppose the heat wouldn't go away, and the traffic would get worse, but besides that... Everyday I see and feel the affects of poverty, and it is hateful to me. I may be insensitive to homelessness in New York, but seeing polio stricken beggars, sitting in the dirt on their useless shriveled legs, will never stop bothering me. And there are a lot of polio stricken beggars here. They carry themselves with incredible dignity. They don't allow me to act self-conscious about my own good health and wealth when I'm talking to them. But the dignity of poverty is a myth, it is a pride that exists in spite of misery.
Most people here don't have the money to afford such a thing as privacy. They sleep together, eat together, work outside all day. And for all their lack of Western luxury, they seem to be happy, proud, and fulfilled in a way that I am just beginning to understand. I have no doubt that, without an environmental catastrophe or world war of some sort, Ghana will be a rich country in the next 50 or 100 years. The amount of foreign investment here is increasing apace, and I see more Hummers rolling around the streets here than I do in New York. The poverty of this nation was created by Western colonizers, and it will probably be eliminated by Western investors. But I'm afraid that with the westernization of Ghana will come more and more new things to be disatisfied about. I love watching DVD's on my laptop, I like eating tofu and ice cream, and I wouldn't deny anyone these and other pleasures. Poverty will probably go, but I hope the culture and the pride doesn't go with it.